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By James Ruhland
web posted May 17, 2004

By the time this is published, I'll be in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC, having joined the U.S. Army. Let me start off by saying the views I express here are my own, not those of the U.S. Army. That is the very point, though – the right to express one's views, whether you are in the military or not.

You hear the accusation all the time from anti-war people. Anyone who supports the war but has not served in the military is charged with being a "chickenhawk". Of course, they have other arguments for those who are serving – they're just driven into the military by economic circumstances or for education opportunities and are duped pawns in Bush's War. Such arguments are invidious. They are a form of ad hominem, attacking the person rather than the argument. It changes the subject from the merits of the case, forcing people to defend their right to express their views.

Those who serve in the military often say that we defend people's freedom to believe what they want and speak out. Ironically, this is most often invoked in the case of opponents of the war and critics of American policy. But it should apply equally to supporters of the war and defenders of American policy. Just as you shouldn't have to have served in the military in order to be anti-war, you don't have to have served to defend it. The vast majority of service members appreciate, rather than condemn, those at home who speak and write in support of America's efforts.

In this war, people are needed to fight the battles. But this war is not just a military conflict, it is a war of ideas. Never let people imply that those who wage the intellectual battle on behalf of America's policies are not contributing to the effort. Such efforts are as vital to our victory as what is done on the battlefield. Intellectual courage in waging this battle may not be the same as physical courage, but it is courage none the less.

I have served in the military in the past, as a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. I have also, in my own small way, tried to contribute in the battle of ideas, through my blog Porphyrogenitus.net. It is a small thing, but no one person is an Army unto themselves, either (no matter what the slogan says). One soldier is part of a unit which is part of an army of people working as a team to complete the mission. One person speaking out or writing in advocating in support of a policy is contributing to it, as a citizen in our democracy. Both roles are legitimate and needed. Anyone who asserts that someone doing the latter who has not also done the former is assaulting not just the person they are attacking, but civic debate in democratic society.

The fact is, if people don't fight the intellectual battle to determine policy, the warriors will not be allowed to fight the military battle to defeat our enemies. The role of the "chickenhawks" is critical to the war effort – which is why so much effort is devoted to discrediting them. Both battles, the intellectual and the military, must be won for us to win the war. So when your right to support the war and fight the war of ideas is attacked, remind people that the soldiers defend your right to express your views, too, not just the critic's rights to free expression.

James Ruhland is author of the blog Porphyrogenitus.net.

Other related articles: (Open in a new window)

  • The chickenhawk slur by John Hawkins (November 17, 2003)
    The extreme left once again dragged out the "chickenhawk" slur to stifle debate, reports John Hawkins. He wonders if they know who would belongs in that category if the insult were to be taken seriously
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